Hamlet (1599–1601)

First official record: version of the play entered into the Stationers' Register on 26 July 1602. Folio text appeared under the title The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke
First published: version of the play published in quarto in 1603 as The tragicall historie of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke
First recorded performance: the entry in the Stationers' Register in July 1602 states that the play was "latelie Acted by the Lo: Chamberleyne his servantes". The title page of the first quarto states that it had been performed in London, at the two universities of Cambridge and Oxford, "and else-where", presumably on tour in the provinces. The first definite dated performance took place on a ship anchored off the coast of Africa in September 1607, the Red Dragon. The play was performed by the crew.
Evidence: Because the versions of Hamlet which appeared in 1603, in 1604 (again in quarto) and in the First Folio of 1623 differ so much from one another, dating the play is exceptionally difficult. There is also the problem of the Ur-Hamlet, a possible source used by Shakespeare, now lost. Others however, feel that Ur-Hamlet (if it ever existed) was most likely an early draft. Hamlet was written sometime between September 1598 (as it was not included in Meres' Palladis Tamia) and July 1602 (when it was registered in the Stationers Register). Furthermore, internal references to Julius Caesar would indicate the play could not have been written any earlier than September 1599. Additionally, in his 1598 copy of an edition of Geoffrey Chaucer's works, Gabriel Harvey has written that Shakespeare's "Lucrece & his tragedie of Hamlet, prince of Denmarke, have it in them, to please the wiser sort". Harvey also mentions the Earl of Essex as still alive, which would suggest he wrote the note prior to 25 February 1601, when Essex was executed. This would seem to narrow the date of composition to between September 1599 and February 1601; however, not all scholars accept the veracity of Harvey's note. Internal evidence in the play has also been cited, usually as illustrative of a date of composition of 1600 or 1601. 
As such, many scholars interpret the available evidence as suggestive of a date of initial composition sometime in 1600, with subsequent revisions. This dating, however, is far from universally accepted.

ACT I

SCENE I. Elsinore. A platform before the castle.

FRANCISCO at his post. Enter to him BERNARDO

BERNARDO

Who's there?

FRANCISCO

Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.

BERNARDO

Long live the king!

FRANCISCO

Bernardo?

BERNARDO

He.

FRANCISCO

You come most carefully upon your hour.

Full text of play